The Dark Secret Your Fast-Food Chicken May Be Hiding

On January 30, a tweet displayed four pictures and a simple comment: "America is broken beyond repair." The pictures detail a 2017 piece written by Amy Julia Harris and Shoshanna Walter for Reveal about addicts that were sent to Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR) after their convictions as part of Oklahoma's attempt to keep nonviolent convicts out of prison. Instead of rehab, they worked at a poultry plant without pay and with the threat of prison if they slacked.

In their article, Harris and Walter reported that CAAIR was devised by chicken company executives to take advantage of Oklahoma's non-imprisoning policy toward addicted convicts as a means to acquire "a cheap and captive labor force" for the plants that provide chicken to places like Walmart and fast-food restaurants KFC and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. Working in these plants is dangerous, and when Brandon Spurgin, one employee interviewed, suffered from a damaged spine due to a falling door, CAAIR filed and then kept his insurance payment.  While under the American Constitution, convicts are treated as an exemption to the 13th Amendment's prohibition of involuntary servitude, the piece points out that many of the inmates at CAAIR have either not been charged or had their case dismissed.

As of writing, the tweet has received over 101,000 likes and almost 36,000 retweets.

Both writers expressed surprise over their work's random virality and were happy that the news of labor camps masquerading as rehab centers, which is still happens, is in the spotlight once more.

The article's aftermath

After the initial 2017 reporting unearthed the story of the rehab labor camps, the pair followed up with a second article announcing two lawsuits were already being assembled. "CAAIR's purpose was and is to provide income to itself and its founders while providing cheap labor to third-party agricultural interests affiliated with CAAIR," one of the complaints explained. The sought outcome was for unpaid minimum wage as well as attorney fees and other damages as may be applicable.

The latest news from the case appeared in the Tulsa World on December 14, 2020. The U.S. District Judge Terence Kern dismissed the lawsuit because of the Rooker-Feldman legal doctrine which bars federal courts from directly reviewing state court decisions without congressional authorization. The plaintiffs' attorney, however, intends to proceed and refile the case.

While the lawsuit has not yet concluded, Tulsa County did suspend its connection to CAAIR upon the revelation of their practices, according to The Frontier. Still, the system remains seemingly broken, but with light shed once more upon the conditions, further measures may be implemented to rein in such abuses.